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A note from puddles4263

19/21

Due to the relative peace of Scant, Randidly was just letting the noises, smells, and pressures of the crowd wash over him. It was not very enjoyable to stay here, but it was a necessary evil. He would need to make preparations here before he could move forward.

One step at a time... Randidly released a breath and closed his eyes, just in time to feel someone reach for Acri, who was hanging around his neck like a necklace and yank.

Of course, Acri sensed this too and surged into motion. Without any of the sort of restraint that Randidly would display. It wiggled out of the way of the grasp and then lashed out with one of a few tiny blades that were almost like Thorn's that Acri was now mimicking from its older sibling. Acri's shaft became like a razor whip that ripped through the air toward the offender.

Grimacing, Randidly reached up and caught Acri with his metallic left arm. Looks like Acri was learning aggressive tendencies from Thorn as well. That would hopefully be tempered by some time apart.

With his other hand, Randidly snagged the little thief. She was young and skinny, a beggar, with incongruously bright blue eyes for one so dirty and smelly. In the first second after Randidly snagged her wrist, she exploded into motion like a feral cat, hissing and clawing. But her fingernails were a far cry from the strength and toughness that she needed in order to harm Randidly through his growing Endurance.

Stoically he endured it, examining her carefully. Obviously, she wasn’t a threat. He hadn’t even registered her movements because they seemed so harmless. Yet to do something so foolhardy as trying to rob a stranger in a System governed world...

After that initial burst of energy, the beggar went as limp as a wet rag, allowing Randidly to be the only force holding her aloft. Sighing, Randidly let go of her and allowed her to drop, which caused her to begin to cry.

Inwardly, Randidly groaned. With these sort of developments... what she said next was probably going to be something like...

"Just kill me," The young girl whispered, her eyes on the ground. "What's the point? Without money, me and my brother...Our lives mean nothing..."

The Crown you wear is one of Upheaval and Gloom, Randidly thought furiously at himself. That is the burden you bear. You must survive the Calamities, and to do that you must grow strong. Focused and strong. By walking the dark Paths and destroying the established ways.

Yet in spite of those thoughts, Randidly crouched down next to the girl so that their eyes were on the same level. Slowly, those brilliant blue eyes rose, watering and intimidated, to meet his gaze that was so vividly emerald that the girl had to blink several times as their eyes met.

There are no perfect Paths, just appropriate ends…. Even if it’s a slight distraction, I can’t just walk away...

"You... think quickly because I'll only ask this once. Can you and your brother guide me through Scant?"

An obviously leading question. Randidly could help this girl and her sibling, but for all her plight Randidly wouldn't give her any sort of concrete aid until he knew her personality a little better. Money would be as quickly given as stolen again if that money were given to one as weak as this. Equipment would be more trouble than it was worth. And what would a young girl do with a bar of iron?

As for an Aether Connection... Randidly steeled himself against giving one out casually, for all that this child was clearly in dire straights.

Poverty was one of the few things that the System left entirely intact, Randidly thought sadly as he looked at the girl. This was the help he could give her, a chance for him to see the goodness in her and consider what other specific assistance he could provide that would be useful. Perhaps a vision of an image or Skill to inspire her.

In the back of his mind, Randidly felt his Crown of Upheaval and Gloom suffusing his Soulspace with its meaning. He felt its stark practicality and dangerous edges. Yet if he could truly assist this girl with it...

But the girl began to cry harder and twisted away. Randidly had let go of her when she collapsed, so she easy regained her footing and sprinted away through the crowd. Within a few seconds, she was gone.

Very slowly, Randidly stood. The words she had spoken...

Just kill me. Without money, me and my brother...

Randidly's metallic left hand screeched in protest as it clenched into a fist filled with crushing force.

I can't save everyone.

It was an easy truth to acknowledge, but a hard one to hold. To wear a Crown is to have the ability to open Paths for those who agree to follow you.

Yet for those who will not follow, what could be done? His Crown above his head seemed to ask. You do not rule a peaceful kingdom. You struggle to manage the ending of the world. Don’t flinch as flows of blood beneath your feet begin to accumulate.

With gritted teeth, Randidly wandered deeper into Scant, following the scent of dead fish and human filth toward the docks.

*****

Kerrar Minnow flashed his gap-toothed smile. "You wish to hire my boat? It can be done, but... the amount I make in a day fishing is not small, sir. I am very good. So your pay on a daily basis will need to be higher than that."

The young man sighed and pressed his eyes closed. Which wasn't a no.

Kerrar eyed the young man’s equipment skeptically. He was wearing rather worn leathers, but on his chest was a strange charcoal colored piece of armor. There was also a strange plant necklace that sometimes seemed to move. An Elementalist then? Although Kerrar hadn’t met any himself, he knew of them.

That would mean this boy had wandered down here from the East End. Quite a far way from home.

An easy mark. And the fact that he was thinking about this amount of money meant that he could pay.

"In addition," Kerrar continued smoothly. "LIfe on the sea is dangerous. We will require guards, and those do not come cheap. If we pay them per day-"

"Unnecessary." The man opened his eyes and spoke with definitive confidence. And those eyes… they were so green and piercing that Kerrar's breath caught in his throat.

Well it’s not like I thought it would be easy… If he came from the North, there is no doubt he has some grit… Kerrar thought. The young man smiled, and Kerrar's Dangerous Depths Skill tingled.

That fact slid into Kerrar’s back like a spike of ice.

"I'll be more than enough to keep monsters away. So, the price...? Give me a number."

Kerrar rubbed his sweaty hands on his leather pants as his mind scrambled to process this information. Although Kerrar planned on robbing this Northern fool blind, it was true that Kerrar would have kept him safe during the voyage. The Long Minnow, Kerrar's ship, might not be as fast or comfortable as some others, but it boasted the greatest track record for safety amongst the vessels. Most of the money Kerrar made was from kickbacks from guards; everyone was willing to take a little less pay to run with Kerrar's ship.

The Long Minnow might run afoul of weather, but never of monsters. Because Kerrar was always able to steer his way out of the worst of it.

That was due to his signature Skill, Dangerous Depths. It was twinge whenever the boat was heading toward an area where an extremely powerful monster lay below the shifting currents of the sea.

This was, as far as Kerrar knew, the first time the Skill had ever activated on land. The man in front of him looked at Kerrar with his luminous emerald eyes and a small smile on his face, as though he knew exactly what Kerrar was thinking right now. And somehow… the young man looked profoundly pleased.

Suppressing a shiver, Kerrar tried a different tactic. “Well then, that just leaves the matter of the guide. Because of the unpredictable nature of the currents, we will need someone will a deep familiarity with your destination. If you could just tell me-”

“Honestly, why am I hiring you if there are so many things you can’t do?” The man asked in amusement.

Kerrar scowled to discourage this sort of behavior immediately. As time passed, Kerrar began to wonder if he was overreacting. Even now, that strange sensation of danger from this man was fading into his memory. It was becoming difficult to be sure that he didn’t just imagine it. “Well then, if my boat isn’t fit for you, I’m sure you can find others in the harbor.”

“I asked for someone fast. Yours was the name that came up.” The man grinned, and his face was that of a hungry predator eyeing its next meal. “I want fast. And I can pay. I don’t need anything but a crew to run the ship. And a captain to point it in the direction that I indicate. The rest… I don’t need it.”

“It will be expensive, even with no extra personal. No, maybe more expensive because we go with so few. The sailing will be difficult.” Kerrar said slowly.

The man tilted his head to the side. “Do you take Donnyton Coins?”

Money, Kerrar reflected. Makes men do foolish things.

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